Monday, February 28, 2022

Briefs for February 28-March 1, 2022

A few weeks back in the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon on "second chance romance", I picked the movie The Awful Truth. One of the TCM programming themes for February has been breakups in the movies, and The Awful Truth is coincidentally one of the movies in that spotlight, tonight at 8:00 PM. So for any of you in the US who haven't seen it yet, this will be one of your chances.

Actually, you'll have another chance coming up in a few weeks. Tomorrow is March 1, and since the Oscars are apparently going to be awarded in March this year (you can see how much I pay attention), TCM's annual 31 Days of Oscar starts tomorrow and continues through March 31. The organizing principle this year is decades, with Mondays through Fridays being, in order, the 1930s through the 1970s. Well, there are a few movies from the 1920s on Mondays, and TCM's programming day isn't beginning at 6:00 AM every single day, so you might get the change in decade a little before or after 6:00 AM. On the weekends, it's only prime time being done by decade, with 1980s movies on Saturday nights and the 1990s and beyond on Sunday nights. Tomorrow being a Tuesday, 31 Days of Oscar kicks off with 13 Oscar-nominated films from the 1940s.

Over on FXM, Caprice is back in the rotation, getting another airing tomorrow at 9:40 AM, followed by an addition airing at 7:50 AM Wednesday. It's hard to believe it's been over a decade since I blogged about it.

A couple of deaths worth mentioning. One is Sally Kellerman, who is probably best remembered for playing Hot Lips Houlihan in the movie version of M*A*S*H, although she had a bunch of other interesting movie appearances, including as Diane Lane's mother in A Little Romance. That, and a lot of TV work, including an early episode of the original Star Trek. Kellerman was 84.

Fans of Hammer horror movies will probably remember Veronica Carlson, who appeared in a handful of later movies in the Hammer horror cycle, notably Dracula Has Rison from the Grave. Carlson was 77. One assumes Dracula Has Risen from the Grave or one of Carlson's other Hammer films will show up on TCM in Octobe, although that's obviously quite some time away.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Housemaid (1960)

Quite some time back, TCM ran a new-to-me South Korean film called The Housemaid. It got a restoration in 2008 thanks in part to Martin Scorsese's World Film Foundation, which meant that it made its way to a pricey Criterion box set. However, when I searched Amazon I couldn't find that box set, so I didn't blog about the movie. It's on again overnight tonight at 4:00 AM (or early tomorrow morning if that's your perspective) as the second film in the night's TCM Import slot, so now was the perfect time to finally watch it and do a blog post on it.

In what is probably a provincial town/small city somewhere in South Korea, there's a company town-type textile factory, employing a whole bunch of young women and housing them in dormitories. (Think the shoe factory in Miloš Forman's Loves of a Blonde, or the defense plant in Millions Like Us.) The bosses also have a social program for the young women, with one of the activities being music. That program is run by Mr. Kim, a composer who seems surprisingly well off. He's got a piano at home, a wife who takes in sewing to make a little extra money, and two kids. He's even been busy building a small house for the family to move into.

One of the female employees, Miss Kwak, has developed an attraction for Mr. Kim, which is a big no-no since he's married and the female employees are supposed to be virtuous. She writes a letter to Kim and slips it under the cover of the piano keyboard for Kim to find. Kim is none too pleased, and when he reports this to the bosses, it gets Kwak fired, forcing her to go back to her rural home and live with her parents. (As subpar, especially compared to the standards of 2020, as these factory jobs may be, don't forget that people took them in order to get away from the even more grinding poverty of rural life in a country just a few years past a devastating civil war.)

Miss Cho is one of Miss Kwak's friends from the factory, and she's always been interested in taking piano lessons, so she goes to see Mr. Cho at his house one evening. Having a bigger home isn't always easier as there's more work and even a rat problem for which the Kims have some rat poison in their kitchen cabinet in what is an obvious bit of foreshadowing. This, combined with Mrs. Kim's being pregnant with the couple's third child, leads the Kims to think perhaps they could use a maid. And perhaps Miss Cho might know somebody who would be interested in taking the job.

Miss Cho introduces them to Myung-sook, who takes the job and immediately becomes a part of the family. So much so, in fact, that she starts having an affair with Mr. Kim. Worse for all involved, it's a relationship that gets her knocked up. And boy is Myung-sook one jealous woman. Mr. Kim doesn't know what to do, while Mrs. Kim is more concerned with her husband's job and social position, so he should just give in to Myung-sook's demands, which only exacerbates the situation.

The Housemaid is an interesting movie that's part noir, as the titular maid is clearly a femme fatale in the noir mold. But it's also a combination of the Hollywood potboiler/melodrama that was a thing in the 1950s and 1960s, although a more intimate potboiler than what Hollywood made, since a lot of it is set in the Kim house. I found myself thinking of Joan Crawford in Queen Bee, although Myung-sook, the manipulative character, isn't the matriarch the way Crawford was. However, even more than the Hollywood melodramas, The Housemaid takes a sharp and extreme turn into the absurd in the second half, with characters acting in ways that defy plausibility.

With that in mind, I can see why some people might not care for The Housemaid, as it seems unrealistic and shrill. However, there are fans of classic films that enjoy those 1950s Hollywood melodramas, and I think those people will really enjoy The Housemaid and the way it goes totally bonkers. I'm in that second group, and I certainly enjoyed the movie in spite of the messy plot. Director Kim Ki-young also does a pretty good job with the camera, especially on the second floor of the house where the music room and Myung-sook's bedroom have a common balcony and the camera pans effectively between the two rooms.

In the end, The Housemaid is an interesting movie that I think is fairly accessible to English speakers because the plot is really one that's not too far from old Hollywood movies. It's just set in a different society with different cultural norms, one that's early on the road to developing into an economic powerhouse. Despite the movie's plot flaws, The Housemaid is definitely one that should be seen.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The End of the Affair (1999)

Another movie that TCM ran during last year's 31 Days of Oscar which is now showing up on one of the premium movie channels is the 1999 version of The End of the Affair. Based on a novel by Graham Greene that was published in 1951, there's also a 1955 film version with Deborah Kerr and Van Johnson. The 1999 version will be on Starz Cinema tonight at 8:16 PM if you have the premium channels.

This version starts in 1946 London, so not long after the end of World War II. Maurice Bendix (Ralph Fiennes) is a writer who is bitter for reasons that will be explained later in the movie. He runs into Henry Miles (Stephen Rea), whose wartime service was on the homefront, getting all sorts of bomb shelters up and running. Henry has a lovely wife in Sarah (Julianne Moore), who just happened to have an affair with Maurice during the war. Henry feels Sarah is being unfaithful, not knowing about her past relationship with Maurice. Maurice suggests seeing a private investigator, which Henry doesn't really want.

So Maurice goes to the detective, Mr. Parkis (Ian Hart), who uses his young son Lance, deformed by a birthmark, as somebody who won't garner unwanted attention. Maurice figures that there's some third guy that Sarah is seeing, and he'd like to know who that other guy is. Maurice then starts having flashbacks to the original relationship with Sarah, which are necessary to the plot as we need to see just why Maurice has the strong emotions that he does. Back in 1939, just before World War II started, Maurice was a writer who was recovering from injuries sustained fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He and the Mileses live fairly close to each other, which leads to Maurice showing up at a cocktail party the Mileses are giving and Maurice first meeting Sarah. They pretty quickly fall in love with each other, and once war breaks out, it's not too difficult for them to carry on their illicit affair since Henry is away on war business all the time.

Meanwhile, we keep moving from the flashback to the current day. Parkis traces Sarah to a particular address where she's seeing a doctor, but that the doctor's appointments are clearly too long to be just medical necessity, which means it must obviously be some sort of tryst going on, like the Edmund Lowe/Jean Harlow relationshp in Dinner at Eight. Maurice eventually comes up with a ruse to see the doctor, only to discover that there is no doctor in the house. Instead, Sarah is seeing Fr. Smyth (Jason Isaacs), a Catholic priest living with his housekeeper sister. (Recall that Graham Greene was a devout Catholic in a country with an overwhelming Protestant majority, and his Catholic faith comes through in a lot of his stories.) Sarah was born to a Catholic mother and Jewish father, although she was never particularly observant growing up. Maurice, on the other hand, is thoroughly secular, not believing in God. But Sarah's Catholic faith might explain her previous actions.

Back to the war, and the affair keeps going up, right up until 1944 when the Nazis start firing the V-rockets at London. Maurice and Sarah are having sex in his apartment when the air raid sirens start going off. He steps out of the room to check and see if anybody will notice them evacuating the building together, when the force of the blast sends him falling down a couple of flights of stairs. He wakes up some minutes later, bloodied but not dead, and heads back up the stairs to discover... Sarah is praying. She's told God that if Maurice is alive, she'll work for God's forgiveness by never seeing Maurice again, which is why she has to break off the affair and why Maurice only saw her again after the war.

But now that they've seen one another again, they can start that affair again... or can they? Henry might find out, and there are other complications.

I haven't seen the 1950s version of this story, even though I'm a fan of old movies, so I have to admit I didn't know much about the story going in. This version of The End of the Affair is well-acted and generally well-made, although the depiction of WWII London looks a bit too neat. The story might be a bit difficult to follow at times since it keeps moving from the present day to the flashbacks without always being clear about what it's doing. You definitely need to pay close attention. If there was one big problem I had, it was the plot point of the kid having such an obvious birthmark. You'd think if you wanted somebody who could spy on people unobtrusively, having a big birthmark would be right out, since that's something everybody would notice about you on first sight and remember. But the birthmark turns out to have plot significance by the end of the movie.

If you want to see modern-day movies not encumbered by the Production code deal with infidelity during an earlier era, then The End of the Affair handles things pretty well, and is definitely worth a watch.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Cleopatra (1963)

The Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton version of Cleopatra has been in the FXM rotation recently. I thought it had an airing today and tomorrow, and was planning to do a post on it today for tomorrow's airing, but it turns out this week's airings were yesterday and today. Oops. At any rate, having watched it, it's still worth blogging about.

This version of Cleopatra is really two movies in one. Based on various biographies, one contemporary and several ancient, the movie opens up a couple of years before the death of Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison). Rome has been in one of its periods of Civil Wars, with Julius Caesar, then a general, having defeated Pompey. Pompey fled to Egypt, which was nominally independent but really a vassal state of Rome. So Julius Caesar goes to Alexandria to try to find Pompey.

Meanwhile, Egypt has its own problems. Ptolemy XIII is the emperor, but he's got a sister in Cleopatra (obviously Elizabeth Taylor) whom he's been trying to banish. The Egyptians, understandably, also don't really like being a vassal state. Still, they kind of have to give Julius Caesar some fine accommodations at the royal palace. However, it's a palace full of secret passages and hiding spaces, which gives the supporters of Cleopatra the ability to smuggle her into the palace in order to meet Julius Caesar and hopefully get him to take her side in the Egyptian power struggle.

Cleopatra being so beautiful, Julius starts thinking with his lower head than the one on top of his neck, and not only takes her side, but also marries her with the intention of increasing his power back in Rome. After the wedding, he even brings her to Rome in a lavish spectacle as well has having another son by her, which is a bit of an issue since he's already got an adopted son in Octavian (played as an adult in the second half of the movie by Roddy McDowall). The Senate, in what is supposed to be a republic, is increasingly disturbed by Caesar's power-hungry desires, so of course they kill him on the Ides of March. Everybody else lived happily ever after.

While the death of Julius Caesar might be a good place to end a story, this is Cleopatra, and she's got another half of her life to live. So instead of end titles, we get entr'acte music before the second half of the movie. Caesar having been killed, there's now a power vacuum in Rome, with a new triumvirate of Octavian, Marc Antony (Richard Burton), and a third general who is less important to the story. They make three provinces out of the lands under Roman control, with each of them nominally getting one-third of the not-yet empire.

Cleopatra, meanwhile, has returned to Alexandria, since Julius Caesar made Octavian his legal heir, and she's got a country to manage anyway, even if it is a vassal state. Antony is still fighting for war, but needs more resources, and is forced to ask Cleopatra for them. Antony, meeting Cleopatra, also starts thinking with his wrong head. But he at least has the good sense to realize that Roman politics is complicated and dangerous, and that he has to marry a Roman woman for political reasons.

He still loves Cleopatra, however, and when things seem to calm down, he finally divorces his Roman wife and marries Cleopatra, which really enrages Octavian, who sets out for Egypt for what ought to be the decisive showdown, except that everybody is able to escape Egypt by water leading to the real decisive showdown at the naval Battle of Actium off the northwestern coast of Greece. If you know your history, you know how it turned out.

Cleopatra as a movie has a whole bunch of problems, many of them caused by producer Walter Wanger's desire to make this movie the grandest spectacle ever put on screen. That, combined with Elizabeth Taylor's illness that nearly killed her and then Taylor's love affair with Richard Burton, caused all sorts of controversy and budget-busting delays. The spectacle is easy to see on film, and it's not terribly surprising that the film got Oscar nods for production design and costume design.

In terms of story, well, that's where the spectacle creates more problems. The film plods along, coming in at 251 minutes inclduing the overture/entr'acte/exit music. There are two clearly defined halves, which apparently was deliberate on the part of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who would have preferred to see two distinct movies, one of each half. Indeed, that would probably work better artistically. As it is, we get something that's frustratingly slow, with perhaps one bright spot in highlighting the complexity of the political problems Cleopatra faces.

Still, this version of Cleopatra should be seen at least once, in part for the spectacle and in part to see just why the movie nearly bankrputed Fox.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #398: Workplace Romance (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is the last Thursday of February, so it means two things. First is that it's another TV-themed edition of the blogathon, and second is that we're still on the Valentine's Day theme of romance. Or, more specifically, workplace romance. I kind of cheated because on one of the shows, the "job" seems more of a hobby. Then again, maybe it was a job; it's been decades since I've seen the show.

Hart to Hart (1979-1984). Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers play Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, a married and idly rich couple who solve murder mysteries, with a Thin Man-like dog Freeway and butler Lionel Stander, a holdover from 1930s films. They should have tried solving the death of Natalie Wood.

Cheers (1982-1993). Washed-up alcoholic baseball playe Sam Malone (Ted Danson) buys a bar in Boston where he tends and a bunch of oddball regulars spend their time. Along the way, Sam tries to woo first barmaid Diane (Shelley Long) and then, after Long left the show, accountant Rebecca (Kirstie Alley).

Who's the Boss? (1984-1992). Former baseball player Tony (Tony Danza) moves to suburban Connecticut with his daughter (Alyssa Milano before she went batshit insane) to become housekeeper to ad executive and divorced mom Angela (Judith Light) and her son (Danny Pintauro). Sparks fly between Tony and Angela even if they're not so sure of it.

TCM Guest Programmer February 2022: Denis Villeneuve

I have to admit that I haven't been paying so much attention to the TCM Guest Programmers lately. That's partly because the series became sporadic in the couple of years leading up to Robert Osborne's death, when he showed up increasingly irregularly on the channel. And I don't think it returned right away. Combining that with the TCM website redesign that makes finding information more difficult, and it's easy to start losing track of things like this.

Anyhow, the Guest Programmers have, I think, been back for a litte while, even if I've missed them. This month sees director Denis Villeneuve, most recently of Dune fame, taking over the night's programming, or at least half the night. Villeneuve has selected two films, in part because of the length of his choices: 2001: A Space Odyssey kicks the night off at 8:00 PM, followed by Lawrence of Arabia at 10:45 PM.

Originally, Guest Programmers almost always picked four films, although there were cases of Programmers only having three movies shown thanks to rights issues and the like. I don't know if this is the first time somebody only selected two films, other than in those programming blocks where TCM had multiple Guest Programmers on one night, each selecting a smaller number of films, like the fan series for the 20th (if memory serves) anniversary. I believe the month of film critics also had each critic only selecting two movies.

At any rate, it's nice to see the Guest Programmer series back on TCM, even if I don't always care for the Programmers' choices.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022


I mentioned a week or so ago that I had watched the 1980 version of Fame, not realizing until after I watched it that it was going to be on TCM overnight tonight at 2:45 AM (which is still technically Wednesday out in the Pacific time zone, at least when the movie starts) as part of a night of movies directed by Alan Parker. So I decided to hold off on my review until the TCM airing.

The movie starts off with a bunch of auditions for incoming freshmen at New York's prestigious School for the Performing Arts. Among the kids -- since they're really supposed to be about 14 years old trying to become freshmen -- are neurotic actor Montgomery MacNeil (Paul McCrane); shy Doris Finsecker (Maureen Teefy), who's being pushed into an audition by her mom who wants something for her; tremendous singer Coco Hernandez (Irene Cara); Bruno Martelli (Lee Curreri), who is more interested in the new electronic music than the traditional instruments that are more the area of expertise of the school, although he's ridiculously talented on synth; Raul Garcia (Barry Miller), a kid of Puerto Rican descent who wants to overcome the perceived stigma of his ethnicity and family history and calls himself Ralph Garcy; and Leroy Johnson (Gene Anthony Ray), a dancer who really only came to accompany a friend who was auditioning but is the one who gets accepted.

Eventually we see who gets accepted, and of course, all the people I mentioned above do since they wouldn't really be worth mentioning if they didn't get accepted. They then start school, which includes training in the various artistic endeavors they've signed up for, along with some harsh lessons from the school of hard knocks that they've all chosen to go into a field which is most likely not going to be financially remunerative for them. The actors, for example, will be lucky to be have roles in TV commercials. The instrumentalists are generally more likely to become future music teachers, too. But there's also academic learning, which is a huge problem for Leroy, who has serious reading deficiencies, as the topic of adult illiteracy was somehow a big thing in the early 1980s. But instead of the teachers being able to get through to him and get him to realize this shouldn't be a stigma and is something that can be corrected, Leroy goes through the rebellious minority student against the horrendous white teachers subplot.

Of course, all of the students get their subplots over the course of the four years they're in high school. One student is told by her teachers that she really doesn't have what it takes and should transfer to a regular school, something that has serious consequences. Coco shows the talent she has, as does Bruno, who writes "Fame", which brings all of the students out on to the streets for an impromptu dance party that probably pissed off everybody in a car. Ralph tries to become a stand-up comic among other things, while taking Montgomery's pills. Montgomery comes to grips with his homosexuality, amazingly apparently being the only gay student in the school. Along the way, there are several dance and music numbers and the students ultimately graduate to an uncertain future.

Fame is an interesting movie that is in some ways of a place and time, considering the subplots. But in another way, it's timeless in that pretty much everybody who goes through adolescence has the sort of big dreams that will come up against hard realities that the students here do; it's just set in the world of the performing arts as opposed to some other world. (I'm reminded of Eric Linden at the beginning of Ah, Wilderness! and the radical high school graduation speech he wanted to give.)

On the other hand, Fame has a lot of characters, and having the movie cover four years, it feels like most of the characters' back stories get short shrift in exchange for the stories being convient archetypes and plot devices. That's a bit of a shame, since all of these young adults turn out to be pretty darn talented, even if they'll go on to have varying degrees of success.

Two of the songs were nominated in the Best Original Song category. "Fame" won, and it's easy to see why considering the joyous spontaneous dance that it's set against. In many ways, "Out Here On My Own" feels more like the sort of song that the writers would have been trying to get nominated. However, it's only used in the movie in the context of Coco singing it in practice. It's really a metaphor for the tribulations they're all going to face when they graduate, except the song isn't used that way.

Fame is over 40 years old now, and spawned a TV series, a Broadway show, and a remake over a decade ago. But the original still holds up thanks to its universal themes and some fine talent.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Living on Velveeta

I mentioned last month when Kay Francis was TCM's Star of the Month that at some point in the past, possibly even before I started this blog, I had seen the movie Living on Velvet that was airing as part of the tribute, but that I had never blogged about it. So I made it a point to record that movie, and then sit down to watch it and do a post on it here.

Kay Francis gets top billing, but the real lead here is played by George Brent, whose role at Warner Bros. was to make his female leads look good, first Kay Francis, and then by the late 1930s Bette Davis. Brent plays Terry Parker, a professional airplaine pilot back in the days when the profession was rather more dangerous than it is now. Indeed, Terry is at the controls of his plane in the opening scene when it crashes, killing his parents and sister but not him, since otherwise he couldn't really be the lead in the movie. Terry then goes overseas to fly as we learn from a series of newspaper articles, first to the Far East and then Venezuela where he keeps getting in trouble because of hs desire to live the sort of life he wants to.

After a year of this, he's returned home to New York where he flies in an air show, in a plane that's owned by his friend "Gibraltar" (Warren William). Gibraltar is one of those gentlemen pilots, one of those idle rich who has his own plane more to impress the society types than to be truly adventurous. Gibraltar invites Terry to one of those society parties of the sort we saw at the beginning of One More Tomorrow, this one hosted by Amy Prentiss (Kay Francis) and her aunt Martha.

Amy and Terry meet, and she's taken by him, not minding that he was a pilot even if he doesn't want his past reputation to precede him. She's so taken by him that she leaves the party to go out for a night on the town. This, even though she's supposed to be Gibraltar's girlfriend. It only takes that one night for Amy and Terry to realize they want to marry each other, and Gibraltar is even generous enough to let the couple live in his house out on Long Island for a ridiculously low rent even by 1930s standards.

Of course, part of the implied agreement of living out on Long Island is that Terry will settle down and get the sort of job where people commute to and from Manhattan by train and play bridge on the way in and out since they all take the same train in and out every day. Terry has never even played bridge, and still has dreams of going back to being a pilot, even though he doesn't have the money for a plane and there's no way he can support Amy on that sort of income.

Amy, wackily enough, continues to support her husband despite her desire for him to get a more regular job. It's only when he sells some stock and uses the proceeds to try to start that airline business rather than renovating the house and saving for a rainy day that she finally thinks of leaving him. But you just know that the first time there's an emergency, she's going to go running right back to him....

Living on Velvet was released in 1935, and feels like the sort of movie that Warner Bros. would try to force upon Kay Francis to try to get her to ask out of her contract since they knew they were soon to have a new queen of the lot in the form of Bette Davis. Kay, unlike Bette or Olivia de Havilland, didn't rebel much, so she got stuck in some lesser movies, as well as this one with ridiculous character motivations.

However, there are definitely things worth watching in Living on Velvet. Kay Francis was known as a clotheshorse, and at the final party, she's wearing a dress that's extremely backless. It's possibly even more backless than the one that Jean Harlow wore in Dinner at Eight where she tells the joke about not being able to expose her skin, only to turn around and show that backless dress. The other highlight is when Kay and George Brent have that night on the town. Kay recites the "30 days hath September" poem, and when she gets to April, George's character notices the speech impediment and comments on it. The fact that Kay Francis would be willing to do such a scene is a bit surprising.

Living on Velvet is a typical lower-tier programmer from the era. It's certainly not terrible, but there's not all that much special about it.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Almost Famous

TCM ran Almost Famous during last year's 31 Days of Oscar. Not having seen it before, I decided to DVR it so I could watch and do a review on it at a later date. It's currently in the rotation of the Epix premium channels, and has an airing tomorrow (Feb. 22) at 5:55 PM on Epix2 and another showing Wednesday.

The movie starts in 1969. The Millers are a family in San Diego with widowed mom Elaine (Frances McDormand); daughter Anita (Zooey Deschanel), who is about to turn 18; and much younger William (Patrick Fugit). William is precocious, and Mom hasn't been telling him the truth about just how young he is, as he started first grade a year early and then skipped a grade later on, making him two years younger than all his classmates. Anita, meanwhile, has been chafing at Mom's inflexible rules, thinking rock and roll is the devil's music more or less. So now that Anita is 18 and of legal majority age, she moves out, moving to San Francisco and becoming a flight attendant although we don't see that until near the end of the movie.

Anita left her kid brother her stash of rock and roll records and William listened to them, becoming a big fan of the bands of the day. So much so that he tries writing articles about the bands and their new albums, getting the attention of Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a real person) of the magazine Creem. Bangs hires young William to do a review of a concert, but William isn't able to get backstage, not being on "the list" -- if the person guarding the door isn't lying about it. Opening act Stillwater, a band that haven't hit the big time yet, are charmed by William, and they get him inside the facility.

Indeed, that's the start of a beautiful relationship. Having written a successful article about the concert, he's contacted by Ben Fong-Torres (Terry Chen playing another real person) from Rolling Stone magazine, wanting William to do a long-form article on Stillwater. This, however, is going to require William to go on tour with the band, and William is probably too young for that. Fortunately for him, however, none of the editors know his real age, at least not until they meet him which in the case of the Rolling Stone staff won't happen until near the end of the movie.

William gets sucked into the world of "almost famous" rock and roll, that being the artist who are able to do tours more than regionally, but not being real headliners doing arena rock or scoring Top 10 records. Stillwater still go from one venue to another by bus, and have their original manager, who was just a friend of lead singer Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). You sense that the band members were friends for whom this is their first band and somehow they've managed to make it this far.

But it's a tough life for everybody, including groupies like Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), although dammit, she'll insist that you not call her a groupie, but a "Band Aide". Stillwater, with William in tow, start heading east on their tour, having all sorts of adventures, while William is trying to get an interview with Russell while also trying not to get too emotionally close to the band since that's going to detract from the interview.

A lot of Almost Famous feels episodic, and while there's not really anything wrong with that, the theoretical main plot of William trying to get the story feels at times like a Macguffin that's being given too much attention. Writer/director Cameron Crowe based this on his own real life experience of having been a teenaged writer who wound up on a rock and roll tour, so while it would be easy to scoff at the events depicted and wonder whether anything like that would happen in real life (Stillwater isn't a real band, but a composite of the bands Crowe covered), there's Crowe's past life to suggest maybe it's not so unrealistic.

I also have to admit that I didn't find myself quite so invested in the band, finding Frances McDormand's scenes to be the highlight of the movie. One wonders whether a real-life person would be this cluelessly intrusive; again, however, since Crowe based it on his own experience, it's probably less off the mark than one would think.

Almost Famous is a very well-made movie, although I have to say that it's one that people who prefer the Golden Age of the Hollywood studio system may have a bit of difficulty warming up to.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

One More Tomorrow

I mentioned the other day that I had a movie on my DVR called One More Tomorrow. It's going to be on TCM tomorrow at 6:00 AM as part of a morning and afternoon of the movies of Ann Sheridan, since she was born on Feb. 21, 1915.

Sheridan nominally gets top billing, but the real star here is Dennis Morgan. He plays Tom Collier III, a playboy who lives in Connecticut in a house that's probably been in the family, and not just his outright, since his father (Thurston Hall) is the one who's the wealthy businessman. Tom is hosting a party for the swell society people, where his seeming best friend Pat Regan (Jack Carson) is serving as butler; said party is right around September 1939 when World War II kicked off in Europe. Odd for a movie released in 1946, but more on that later.

One of the guests at the party is Cecelia Henry (Alexis Smith), a gold-digger who seems intent on getting Tom for a husband; at least, she seems like she might be the right social class for him. Also showing up at the party, but not as a guest, is a crew from the "liberal" magazine Bantam, headed by photographer Christie Sage (that's Ann Sheridan). "Liberal" here means not just being openly anti-Nazi when that wasn't quite so prominent (since the movie is set before the US entry into World War II), but also papering over the evils of Soviet Communism. Tom follows Christie back to New York and the Bantam offices, and sparks fly.

Tom is eventually able to buy out Bantam, but not to neuter it. Instead, he lets the editor, Jim Fisk (Reginald Gardiner), keep the magazine's editorial line. But although Tom loves Christie and the feeling is clearly mutual, there's no way they can get married since Tom has his father and all those "polite society" people. So he marries Cecelia, and nobody lives happily ever after.

Some time passes, and Christie has dealt with the pain of being dumped by Tom by going to Mexico where she does some sort of avant-garde photo shoot (we never actually see the photos), before returning to New York to display the photos at a hoity-toity gallery. Tom gets an invite, and is planning on going, at least until Ceceli shows herself to be a controlling jerk. It's not only that, however; she impresses upon Tom the need to get rid of Pat as a butler.

Tom feels bad about having stood Christine up again, so he goes into New York to see her, although she doesn't want to see him since she can't deal with the emotional pain of his being unavailable to her. Meanwhile, back at Bantam, Jim has gotten a story about corruption in the defense procurement industry. It's a juicy one, but running it means that there's a pretty darn good possibility some of the people in Tom's social circle will be caught up in the scandal and go to prison for it. Cecelia resorts to underhanded means to spike the story.

One More Tomorrow came across as a movie that was really odd in tone, and looked like a lesser print. Indeed, it felt like something that shouldn't have come out after the end of World War II, having been released in mid-1946. A search on IMDb shows that the movie was actually filmed in mid-1943 and held back for three years for whatever reasons Warner Bros. had in mind. That 1943 filming date would explain a lot of the film's politics. (If Warner Bros. had really wanted to be daring, they could have tried making Bantam a magazine that opposed the rampant corruption of the New Deal.) As it was the height of World War II, there was a sense that the Soviets, as our nominal allies in the war, needed to be made more palatable, something seen in movies like The North Star and the thoroughly revolting Mission to Moscow which completely whitewashes Stalin's crimes against humanity.

The resulting tone makes One More Tomorrow a movie that's a little tough to take. A lot of the dialog feels forced, as though everybody needs to go through the motions of making wartime propaganda. But even then, there were movies made during the war that clearly promote the war effort and do a good job of it. One More Tomorrow is heavy-handed even in that way. As a result, it's a movie that'll probably be of interest mostly to completists of one or another of the stars.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

TCM's Sidney Poitier tribute

Tomorrow (Feb. 20) would have been the 95th birthday of actor Sidney Poitier, who died last month. I don't recall the original TCM schedule, although I wouldn't be surprised if there had been a couple of Poitier's movies already on the Sunday afternoon schedule. In any case, TCM preempted a fair portion of the schedule in order to create a 24-hour salute to Poitier. That salute kicks off this evening at 8:00 and will feature 12 of Poitier's movies:

In the Heat of the Night, with Poitier playing a Philadelphia police detective pressed into service in the South to solve murder case, starts the salute at 8:00 PM.

Poitier spends a good portion of The Defiant Ones (10:00 PM) handcuffed to Tony Curtis as both of them play chain gang criminals on the run.

At midnight, there's A Warm December, directed by Poitier, about an American who meets and falls in love with an African dignitary suffering from sickle-cell anemia;
Cry the Beloved Country at 2:00 AM is set in the early days of apartheid-era South Africa;
Something of Value at 4:00 AM has Poitier playing a Kenyan during the Mau Mau uprising against Britain;
Goodbye, My Lady at 6:15 AM is one I actually haven't seen;
Edge of the City at 8:15 AM sees Poitier as a longshoreman who gets helped by John Cassavetes against a spurious criminal accusation.

Poitier made his debut in No Way Out at 10:00 AM playing a doctor in a hospital prison ward who has a white patient die on him and the dead guy's criminal brother (Richard Widmark) is a seething racist who vows revenge. Daring for 1950, although some viewers today might take a different opinion.

In The Blackboard Jungle at noon, Poitier is one of many actors too old to be teenagers playing students in Glenn Ford's high school classroom;
Poitier would go on to play the teacher in To Sir, With Love at 2:00 PM, in an inner-city London high school;
Poitier would win the Oscar for Lilies of the Field (4:00 PM), playing a handyman who stops in Arizona and finds himself at a convent where the nuns impress upon him the need to build a chapel for them.

Finally, at 6:00 PM, there's A Patch of Blue, in which Poitier finds poor exploited blind girl Elizabeth Hartman, who falls in love with him, only to have to deal with her terribly racist mom (Shelley Winters, who picked up her second Oscar).

Friday, February 18, 2022

Kindergarten Cop

I brought up the recently-deceased Ivan Reitman in my briefs post yesterday, and mentioned that I had Kindergarten Cop, which Reitman directed, on my DVR. So last night I sat down to watch it and do post on here.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Kimble, the titular cop. At the start of the movie he's in a Los Angeles-area mall tailing Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson). Crisp is a drug dealer well known to Kimble, and Kimble has been trying to get the goods on Kimble for some time. Crisp goes into a section of the mall that apparently generally shouldn't be accessible to regular people, but he and some other guy are able to get into it and have a meeting where they won't be seen, except by the other guy's girlfriend. This other guy tries to sell Crisp information on Crisp's ex-wife and kid, who fled with a whole bunch of drug money, which is why Crisp is offering a substantial reward for information that will help him find the wife and kid.

Except that Crisp is a nasty man who has no intention of paying out. When the informant tries to press Crisp for the money, Crisp responds by shooting him dead, which obviously gets Kimble's attention. Crisp is arrested, but it's going to be tough to put him behind bars, as the informant's girlfriend isn't much of a witness, being a drug addict; also, Crisp was able to dispose of the murder weapon.

However, Kimble is able to get the same information that the informant gave, which is that the possible sighting of the ex-wife occurred up in Astoria, OR. So the authorities send both Kimble and another detective, Phoebe (Pamela Reed) up to Oregon to try to find the ex-Mrs. Crisp before he can find her, and hopefully get her to testify against him. Since the Crisps' son is kindergarten age, the plan is to have Phoebe pose as a kindergarten teacher in order to do some surreptitious intelligence work with the trusting kids.

Things don't quite work that way, though. On the way up to Oregon, Phoebe gets a pretty severe case of food poisoning, forcing the two of them to switch roles, with Phoebe doing legwork like checking into bank records, and Kimble being the teacher. Not that the principal, Miss Schlowski (Linda Hunt), believes Kimble can possibly make a good teacher.

And here we head into fish out of water comedy territory. Kimble, unsurprisingly, has no prior experience teaching, and doesn't know how to deal with the unruly children at first, children who will mercilessly take advantage of him if he lets them. But Kimble is able to use his physical presence, along with deciding he's going to play at being a sheriff in the classroom, with the children being mock deputies, with the proviso that they have to have the discipline that deputies would have. Surprisingly, it works more or less, at least enough to impress Schlowski, who has only been told there's some sort of investigation going on.

Kimble has a couple of possible candidates for which kid might be Crisp, but isn't certain at first. He's also able to make himself a respected member of the community, and even get a possible romantic interest in another of the teachers, Joyce (Penelope Ann Miller), who is the single mother of Dominic, one of the kids in Kimble's class. It's fairly obvious where this is going. It's also obvious that Crisp, aided by his mother (Carroll Baker), is going to make his way up to Astoria for the climax.

Kindergarten Cop is a moderately entertaining movie, although one that isn't breaking any new ground. Arnold Schwarzenegger is fairly limited in his range as an actor, and the script plays to his strengths in the form of his physical presence and an ability to be that fish out of water. Most of the kids in the kindergarten are written to be ridiculously obnoxious, but the twins playing Dominic are surprisingly not obnoxious. In fact, the children's use of language may make the movie a bit off-putting for some paretns. The adult supporting cast does reasonably well.

Kindergarten Cop is by no means the greatest movie made, and not even anything notably special, but it's worth a watch when it shows up on one or another of the cable channels if you haven't seen it before. (I believe its next airing here in the US is on March 1 on one of the StarzEncore channels.)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Briefs for February 17-18, 2022

I mentioned a few days ago when I did a blog post on Lady in Cement that it's a sequel to Tony Rome, and that Tony Rome has been showing up in the FXM rotation recently. In fact, it's got another showing, tomorrow (Feb. 18) at 9:25 AM. That will be followed at 11:20 AM by another Frank Sinatra movie, The Detective. And then, wouldn't you know, both of them are running back-to-back again on Saturday, Feb. 19.

As for other FXM films, The King and I has been in the rotation, and I thought I had it on the DVR to watch and do a review of, but surprisingly, I don't. So I'm going to have to record it the next time it shows up, which will be at the end of next week. I do have the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra on my DVR, and that one also shows up next week, but I've been loath to sit down for a four-hour movie. My sleep schedule has been a bit screwed up since the ice storm and power outages two weeks ago.

I've got some other movies on my DVR that are coming up on one or another of the movie channels in the near future. In fact, I made the mistake of watching Fame last weekend and only looking afterward to see if it would be coming up on TV. It'll be on next week as well, so I'm trying to save my post on it for then, although that means I have to make the time to watch one other movie to do a post on instead. There's also a Warner Bros. programmer with Dennis Morgan called One More Tomorrow that will be on this coming Monday, so I'll get around to watching it over the weekend and do a post on it on Sunday.

As for the TCM lineup in the nearer future, tonight sees a couple of Gene Tierney movies, including Whirlpool at 11:45 PM, which doesn't seem to get shown all that often. Tomorrow morning and afternoon brings a bunch of David Niven movies, since his birthday is March 1 which this year will be the start of 31 Days of Oscar. Friday night in the pre-Underground slot has a couple of movies about the changing romantic mores in the 1960s. I don't have my monthly schedule open, and TCM's website doesn't have anything about this being a programming spotlight.

You probably heard about the death of producer/director Ivan Reitman, who died last Saturday at the age of 75. Reitman had a hand in several prominent movies in the 1980s, well actually starting about a year earlier with Animal House, which I've got on my DVR but haven't gotten around to watching to do a review on. The other most famous one would be the first Ghostbusters, but he also did Twins which I blogged about a couple months back, as well as Kindergarten Cop which I also have sitting on my DVR.

Thursday Movie Picks #397: Romantic Tropes: Second Chance Romance

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. As we still have this Thursday and next Thursday in February left, we've got two more romance-themed editions of the blogathon. This Thursday, that theme is "Second Chance Romance". I had a couple of movies in mind, and checked to see whether or not I'd used them, and wound up making some surprising choices as a result:

The Awful Truth (1937). I thought I had used this one before, and so was thinking about using the 1950s remake, Let's Do It Again, instead. However, in searching the blog, there was a match three years ago in the Thursday Movie Picks in which I had picked Let's Do It Again for a theme on Romantic Comedies on the grounds that I thought I had used The Awful Truth before! Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play a couple who seek a divorce after a series of misunderstandings, with the divorce to be finalized after 90 days. In those 90 days, each of them tries to find new love, only to find that they're still in love with each other, and will have to do something in order to get that divorce decree not to be finalized.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936). One of the many couples detective movies made in the wake of The Thin Man, this one stars Jean Arthur as Mrs. Bradford, a mystery writer who's divorced from her ex-husband, Dr. Bradford (William Powell). There's an odd death at the racetrack which might be murder, leading Dr. Bradford to investigate from a medical angle and Mrs. Bradford to investigate from a murder mystery angle, getting her ex-husband to investigate with her and possibly rekindle the romance.

Seems Like Old Times (1980). Another movie about a divorced couple and a crime. Chevy Chase plays the ex-husband, a reclusive writer who is kidnapped and forced to rob a bank. In order to evade the law, he hides out in the home of... his ex-wife (Goldie Hawn). However, there's just a bit of a complication, which is that the ex-wife has remarried, to a man who is the district attorney (Charles Grodin) and has ambitions of becoming Attorney General. There's going to be trouble for everybody if Chase is found in the DA's house. Meanwhile, Chase sees this as an opportunity to try to reconcile with his ex-wife.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Grass Sea

Katharine Hepburn was one of the stars honored in Summer Under the Stars last August. One of the movies they showed that I hadn't blogged about before was The Sea of Grass. Recently, I finally got around to watching it.

Hepburn plays Lutie Cameron, a woman of marriageable age living with her family in St. Louis in 1880. Some time back, cattleman Col. Jim Brewton (Spencer Tracy) had visited St. Louis and fallen in love with Lutie, with the intention of marrying her; indeed, the movie opens up on Lutie's wedding day. Except that Lutie gts a telegram from Jim that his work in the New Mexico territory has kept him there, and she's going to have to take the train out to New Mexico to marry him. Not a very auspicious start.

But Lutie must have really loved Jim, since she gets on that train more or less alone for the journey to Salt Fork, NM. She makes a friend on the train, Selina Hall (Ruth Nelson), who is married to a homesteader out in New Mexico. Now, if you know your westerns, you know that one theme that shows up commonly is that of the struggle between the ranchers who feel they need an open range to graze their cattle, and the farmers who are settling on 40-acre plots of land. Those plots will obviously require fencing off, so you can see why the cattlemen are not too pleased about it.

The train gets in early, so Jim isn't at the station. In going through town, Lutie winds up at the hotel, where she meets Brice Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas), a lawyer who is definitely on the side of the homesteaders in this new land. In fact, he'd eventually like to get a federal court in this district so that the homesteaders will have the law on their side. Unsurprisingly, too, because of the nature of Hollywood movies, Brice falls in love with Lutie so that there's going to be a romantic conflict throughout the movie.

Lutie eventually makes it out to the Brewton ranch, where she's the only woman. It's not long before they can make the marriage official, and not long after that before Lutie gets pregnant with the first of two kids, a daughter and then a son. But Lutie is still good friends with Selina, and has a lot of sympathy towards the farmers. She's particularly irritated with the idea that the ranchers feel OK about resorting to violence to keep the range open.

Jim is single-minded about keeping the range open for his cattle, and since Lutie isn't backing him 110% there's some fairly obvious tension there, to the point that Jim sends Lutie off to Denver, the biggest city around, to do some "shopping", which is really a euphemism for deciding whether or not she wants to stay in New Mexico. She goes back the first time, but then there's a second time when Jim's violence causes Selina to have a miscarriage that ultimately leads to Lutie's leaving. This even though she's not going to be able to get custody of the children.

Lutie goes off to St. Louis but finds out that her father died and wasn't able to leave her much of an inheritance. Worse, she's got kids she hasn't seen in years, who aren't going to remember her. They grow up into good girl Sara Beth (Phyllis Thaxter) and roué Brock (Robert Walker), both of whom are only seen in the last half hour of the movie. Jim has been a bad father to Brock, much like Spencer Tracy's character in the movie Edward, My Son, and it's only when Brock gets himself into trouble he can't get out of that Jim might finally reform. It's also what brings Lutie back to New Mexico....

The Sea of Grass is another of those movies that has a maddening script. Oh boy are these unsympathetic characters, at least among the leads, with Melvyn Douglas playing the only one I didn't want to shake some sense into. Apparently, it was also a troubled shoot, with a lot of it being done on the back lots and MGM's western village out in the Alabama Hills or wherever they had it. There was also apparently some tension between Elia Kazan on the one hand, and Tracy and Hepburn on the other. To be fair to everybody, however, they're all professional, and The Sea of Grass is a studio-era movie in which everybody does the best they can with a subpar script. Certainly competent, but not the first movie I'd think of recommending for people who want to see the work of anybody involved.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Stepfather (1987)

Some months back, TCM ran Bette Davis' final film, Wicked Stepmother, as part of TCM Underground. The movie was paired with one that had an appropriate title for the pairing, The Stepfather. Not having seen either, I recently got around to watching The Stepfather.

Terry O'Quinn plays the stepfather, although at the beginning of the movie he doesn't have what is going to be his step-family for the rest of the movie. In fact, he briefly has a different one. He's in the bathroom of his house, shaving off his beard and replacing his eyeglasses with contact lenses (obviously he didn't watch Richard Basehart in Tension). After a shower and a change of clothes, he walks downstairs, where he see that the rest of his family has been murdered, presumably by him! He just walks out of his house and into a new life somewhere in the Seattle area.

In the next scene, we get a caption helpfully telling us it's one year later. Stephanie Maine (Jill Schoelen) is the daughter in a family together with her mom Susan (Shelley Hack) and Susan's second husband Jerry, who is obviously the same guy who murdered his previous family. But not that Susan or Stephanie know it. Well, not yet. Stephanie has had adjustment problems ever since her biological father died, and gets the sense that something with Jerry may not be quite right. How much of that is because we know his past, and how much of that is a teenager having difficulty dealing with the death of her father and Mom moving on to a new husband is a subject for debate. But in any case, the adjustment issues are enough for Stephanie to be seeing a shrink, Dr. Bondurant.

Eventually entering the picture is Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen). Jim was away traveling at the time of the notorious murder, which has since become a cold case. Technically, the police know who did it, but the father of that family was using an assumed identity at the time of that murder, and nobody knows his original identity or what he could have changed it to now. Jim is the brother of the murdered mother in the family, so he has a good reason for wanting justice, even if he can't understand that the police aren't doing anything because they have nothing to go on. Jim decides he's going to start doing some detective work himself.

Amazingly, nothing in the house is decaying even though it's been unoccupied for a year, and Jim is conveniently able to find an old travel magazine with an article cut out that's going to provide a key clue. Why none of that stuff was removed from the house by the police and cataloged as evidence is one of the plot holes you should probably not think so hard about as you're watching the movie.

While Jim is doing his sleuthing, Stephanie is beginning to get increasingly worried about her stepfather, to the point that she does some detctive work of her own, trying to get a picture of the murderer from the other family. She also thinks about going off to boarding school to get away from her stepfather, although he doesn't approve of it, and absolutely won't talk to Dr. Bondurant about it. Stephanie, however, has some good reason for her increasing worry -- when the newspaper printed an article about the other murder, albeit without the murderer's photo, she saw her stepfather fly into a rage down in the basement when he thought nobody was watching him. And he's going to go into a rage a few more times before it's all over.

The Stepfather is a mostly effective little movie, at least if you can get over some of the plot holes in the script and the convenient coincidences. Terry O'Quinn is quite good as the stepfather we know is an evil man but is able to fool everybody around him. Schoelen and Shellen are both adequate, while Shelley Hack is underused. If you want something a little different from the usual fare of classic movies and stars I recommend, then The Stepfather isn't a bad little diversion.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Lady in Cement

I've got a Frank Sinatra box set that has a couple of movies I still haven't gotten around to blogging about. So recently, I put in the DVD of Lady in Cement to do a post on here.

Frank Sinatra plays Tony Rome, the former Miami police detctive turned privated detective whom we already saw in the movie Tony Rome, which I believe is also currently in the FXM rotation. Tony lives on his boat and plays the horses between cases, as well as trying to make money in other ways. This time, for example, he's looking for possible treasure from some old Spanish shipwrecks. However, he doesn't find any Spanish treasure. Instead, he finds a naked blonde whose feet have been put in a cement block and the block dumped into the ocean. Worse, there are sharks nearby.

Tony does the right thing by calling the police, since he used to work for them after all, and still has a good friend on the force in the form of Lt. Santini (Richard Conte). Unfortunately, the police can't get an identification from fingerprints or anything, while Tony doesn't recognize any of the photos in the police library. So who could this woman be, and why would anybody want to kill her? It's fairly obvious that Tony is going to be drawn further into the case.

That comes in the form of a phone message giving him an address to go to. That address is the house of two young women rooming together, Sandra Lomax and Maria Baretto (Lainie Kazan in an early role). But neither of them is the one who called Tony to come to the house. That honor goes to Waldo Gronsky (Dan Blocker), who informs Tony that Sandra has gone missing, and he'd like Tony to find her. There will be some good money in it, too.

Apparently, both Sandra and Maria both worked at a place called Jilly's, a go-go bar where they both danced in skimpy outfits under the employ of an obviously gay man who has hired his lover as a bouncer, a characterization which really only serves as the basis for some uncomfortable humor and testing the new boundaries in film. Maria doesn't know where Sandra is, but suggests that Sandra attended a party hosted by Kit Forrest (Raquel Welch), a widowed heiress with a lot of money to her name.

Tony goes to see Kit, and she gives him no information, instead calling on "reformed" gambler Al Mungar (Martin Gable) to get Tony out of there. However, it turns out that Kit was expecting somebody else that she'd need Mungar to get rid of, not a private detective. When she realizes what happened, she's slightly less reluctant about helping Tony.

But this is a twisted case, and there are more murders, with one of them even pinned on Tony, who is clearly being framed, so he's going to have to evade Santini while trying to find out where Sandra is and who is the titular Lady in Cement.

Tony Rome was apparently not a hit according to Wikipedia, and yet still a sequel was made. I'm guessing that had something to do with Sinatra working in Miami at the time and being able to make the movie by day and do his nightclub act in the evenings. Unfortunately, the movie was saddled with a poor script that doesn't quite make enough sense. The Miami locations, however, are lovely to look at. Thankfully, Lady in Cement is part of a box set, so at that price it's not too much of a disappointment. I don't think I'd pay standalone DVD prices for it, however.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Harry and the Hendersons

I mentioned recently that I had the 1980s movie Harry and the Hendersons on my DVR, and intended to do a post on it because it's recently gotten a new Blu-ray release. So over the weekend I finally got around to watching it.

George Henderson (John Lithgow) is the father in a Seattle family who works for his family's hunting-goods store. He likes the outdoors and going camping, as does his bratty son Ernie (Joshua Rudoy), but his wife Nancy (Melinda Dillon) and teenaged daughter Sarah (Margaret Langrick) not so much. They're camping somewhere in the Cascade mountains, having driven in to a remote site on a dirt road rather than a state park with dedicated camping sites. On the way home, they accidentally hit something, which is known to happen with large wild animals.

George gets out of the car and inspects whatever it is that they've hit, and comes to the conclusion that it looks suspiciously like what popular imagination claims a Sasquatch looks like. This even though everybody knows there's really no such thing as a Sasquatch. In any case, they might be able to make a bit of money if they have an example, even if dead, of a mythical Sasquatch, so they tie the poor creature to the roof of the car and set off for home.

It turns out, however, that this Sasquatch is in fact not dead, as it surprises the family by looking in through the windshield, something I can imagine would scare the bejeezus out of anybody. But that only seems to be a one off thing, as Harry doesn't seem to be moving. So they take him home and stick him in the basement.

Meanwhile, there are people who have been trying to find Bigfoot all there lives. One is scientist Dr. Wallace Wrightwood (Don Ameche), who has written several books on the subject, and now that he's of retirement age, he's cut back on his workload by running a roadside "Bigfoot museum" out in the Cascades. There's also hunter Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet), who finds the tracks and sees how the footprints end suddenly, merging with tire tracks. Furthermore, he finds one of the license plates from the Hendersons' station wagon, which enables him to get the Hendersons' address.

The Sasquatch turns out to be alive, of course, and is given the name Harry by the Hendersons. But he escapes the Henderson house and starts running around the neighborhood. So now there are obviously more Sasquatch sightings and the case of Harry becomes a local phenomenon as everybody and his brother wants to find the Sasquatch.

There's not that much of a story to Harry and the Hendersons; at least, not much that's original. The story does more or less hold up, although watching the movie it felt like the sort of plot I'd seen before. The fact that it being well after the end of the Production Code means you can also have a potty-mouthed little kid and this is supposed to be funny and not obnoxious doesn't help. Still, the special effects of Harry are good, and the story is entertaining enough. It'll keep you entertained, even if it isn't anything special.

TCM Schedule Heads-Up

This being Black History Month, one of the TCM spotlights is on movies looking at race, every Sunday in prime time. On this second Sunday of the month, the programming continues into Silent Sunday Nights. There's a documentary at 9:30 PM about pioneering filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. That will be followed by a two of his surviving silents, Within Our Gates at 11:00 PM and The Symbol of the Unconquered overnight at 12:30 AM (which will of course still be late Sunday evening in more westerly time zones). I haven't seen the documentary so I can't comment on it, but the two silents are definitely worth watching.

But I really wanted to mention the TCM Imports, because the DirecTV box guide seems to be acting odd. The first film, at 2:00 AM, is the Mexican film Deep Crimson, which is another movie I haven't seen but sounds interesting. It's the second movie where the issues crop up. The TCM website, as well as, are both listing Purple Noon at 4:15 AM, while the DirecTV guide is for some reason showing a Pedro Almodovar film, What Have I Done to Deserve This? in that time slot. I'm guessing it's Purple Noon, although I personally think it would be more fitting to have a pair of Spanish-language films on the same night and I haven't actually seen the Almodovar movie before.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

One of Our Aircraft is Missing

There is/was an outfit (Reel Vault, if memory serves), that produced gray-market versions of lesser-known British films on DVD and sold them here in the States. I got to blog about some surprisinly good films I'd otherwise never have heard of, such as Cottage to Let with Alastair Sim and Home at Seven with Ralph Richardson. Somehow, some better-known titles also showed up, such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's collaboration of One of Our Aircraft is Missing.

The title takes its name from reporting on British bombing raids during World War II, when an aircraft in a squadron would fail to return as a result of having been shot down. In this case, that aircraft is the bomber "B for Bertie". The crew, flying out of southeastern England, consists of two pilots, Haggard (Hugh Burden) and Earnshaw (Eric Portman); two gunners, Hickman (Bernard Miles) and Corbett (Godfrey Tearle); navigator Shelley (Hugh Williams); and radioman Ashley (Emrys Jones). Now, we know the plane is going to go missing, not just from the title of the movie, but because we're shown a plane going down right at the beginning of the movie, before the main action sets in.

So after all of that, the crew gets aboard the plane for a nighttime bombing raid of the Daimler-Benz works in Stuttgart. That bombing goes well, but on the way back, while the crew is flying over the Netherlands, the plane is shot. All six men are able to parachute out of the plane, but somehow the plane doesn't actually crash over the Netherlands, so the Nazis wouldn't know that they've got a bunch of British airmen in their midst.

This actually presents a problem for our airmen. After the make it to ground safely, they bury the parachutes to escape detection, and try to hide until they're discovered by a group of children playing. Well, five of them are discovered; the sixth couldn't find the other five. The children take them back to their village, where the villagers are generally anti-Nazi, but have to keep that a secret lest the Nazi occupiers destroy them. And the villagers debate what to do with these airmen for a fairly long time, for one good reason: there's no plane to prove that there are missing British airmen! For all the villagers know, these could be Nazi plants trying to rat out the Dutch underground. It's been known to happen.

Eventually, the villagers, represented by schoolteacher Els (Pamela Brown) since she speaks English, do accept the airmen and formulate a plan to get them out of the country by consistently moving them west from one gathering to another whenever groups of people can move, something that the Nazis control fairly tightly. The first move is to a Catholic Mass, where the priest is played by a very young Peter Ustinov right at the beginning of his career. Then there's a soccer game, and finally, close to the coast, the home of Jo de Vries (Googie Withers) who has a reputation of being pro-Nazi but that's actually a front.

If there's a problem with One of Our Aircraft is Missing, it's that most of the action is perfunctory. It's supposed to be a suspense movie, with us wondering whether any or all of the airmen are going to make it out of the Netherlands alive. In fact, there doesn't seem to be all that much suspense here as the airmen are able to move toward their destination fairly easily. Perhaps the Nazis of the movie (not much shown) didn't realize they had British airmen in their midst. Other than that, the movie is very competently made, thanks to a pretty stellar crew. In addition to some actors early on in their careers and the collaboration of Powell and Pressburger, there's also a young David Lean as film editor, along with another future director, Ronald Neame, doing the cinematography. No wonder the production values are so good.

I just wish that the story in One of Our Aircraft is Missing could have been fleshed out better. Still, it's definitely worth a watch to see the sort of war movie the British were making during World War II.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Krush Groove

Some movies defy a typical review. An example of such a movie that I recently watched would be the "rap musical" Krush Groove.

The movie is loosely based on the early career of Russell Simmons, a rap mogul who was the head of Def Jam Records and who has a cameo in the movie. The studio head here is named Russell Walker, played by Blair Underwood at the start of his movie career. He runs a small Harlem company called Krush Groove Records that has been promoting some acts doing the new sound of rap, this being the early-to-mid 80s before rap would cross over into the mainstream, notably with Run DMC's cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" (a duet with Aerosmith that would also re-launch Aerosmith's career). In fact, Run DMC (playing themselves) are one of the acts putting out records for Krush Groove, as are the Disco Three, an act that would later become the Fat Boys (again, playing themselves), an early pioneer of the genre of Non-Threatening Rap.

(This was a good year or two after Krush Groove, but an excellent example of how the Fat Boys were basically parodying themselves, and a lot of silly fun.)

Now, there's a bit of a problem. The songs are becoming successful enough that people want to buy the records. But Russell, who happens to be the brother of Run from Run DMC, has a cash-flow problem. They don't have the money to press more records to sell, so they have no more records to sell and make the money to press more. Russell tries to get a loan from the bank, which doesn't understand the business of record production -- or maybe understands it and the inherent risks all too well. Russell asks his dad, who just happens to be a minister in what has to be one of the most innovative plot devices ever; Dad tells him this is obviously a challenge from God and that Russell will become a better man by figuring out how to meet that challenge.

Faced with the loss of some of his acts to Galaxy Records, which has the cash to actually sign the acts to contracts, Russell decides to get the money from a loan shark. But the loan shark's terms are pretty onerous, putting Russell in some danger. Further complicating Russell's personal life is musician Sheila E. (another musician played by herself), an extremely talented drummer who has her own band and doing a thing that's good if a bit different from rap. Russell falls in love wih her, but Run is also in love with her.

Along the way, various bands, notably the Disco Three before they realize they should just embrace their heft and call themselves the Fat Boys, enter talent shows trying to win the money to keep their careers going. This gives the movie the chance to use a bunch of then up-and-coming acts as cameos performing their own songs, with the two recognizable names here being the Beastie Boys (well before "You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party") and New Edition (featuring future Mr. Whitney Houston Bobby Brown before he left New Edition to become a solo star).

Krush Groove is, on the face of it, little more than a genre movie with a bunch of story elements that have been done to death. Heck, at one point I found myself thinking of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, and perhaps these talented acts could just put on a show. Then again, that was also done with a lot of soul acts in The Blues Brothers. There's also a scene where it seemed like the producers thought, "Blair Underwood is young and fit; let's give him a shirless exercise scene on top of a building that doesn't fit in with the plot and then have his brother come up and talk with him in order to make it fit into the plot." That's not the love scene with Sheila E., which is reasonably well done and uses the ballad "Tender Love". Unfortunately, the "Tender Love" music is mistakenly reused for a later scene between Russell and Run.

But it's terribly unfair to Krush Groove to try to grade it based on the anodyne story and the musicians who aren't actors. Instead, one really needs to look at it for the quality of the musicianship. This being a musical about the music industry, having all those musical numbers are clearly much less out of place than in a lot of the Freed Unit musicals at MGM back in the day. I wasn't into rap back in the day, but the musical numbers here are a lot of fun, especially Sheila E. who has a tremendous amount of talent (she was part of a family of musicians and a protégée of Prince at the time), along with the Fat Boys who provide the comic relief.

The Fat Boys, in fact, get multiple highlights, with the first being a number the perform in the halls of their high school (no, they don't want to run through the halls of their high school or scream at the top of their lungs). The other big one is when they basically decide to become the Fat Boys, going to an all you can eat buffet at a Sbarro that has incredibly funny visuals to go along with their raps. Of course, nobody stopped to think why you'd want to eat anything at a Sbarro.

If you're into rap and would like to see a movie about the genre's early days, I think you'll have a lot of fun watching Krush Groove. Heck, even if you're not that into rap, it's still a fairly entertaining watch.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #396: Romantic Tropes: Romance between a famous and non-famous person

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're in February, and since Valentine's Day is this coming Monday, it's unsurprising that February sees a series of romance-themed Thursday Movie Picks. This time, the theme is romance involving a famous person and someone who isn't famous. Now, this doesn't specify whether the famous person is a real person (eg. a biopic of someone who married an average person), or whether it only need be somebody who's famous in the context of the movie. I decided to go with the latter, and three movies in which the famous person is running away from something:

It Happened One Night (1934). A famous heiress (Claudette Colbert) runs away from her father (Walter Connolly) in Florida to try to elope with an adventurer. Dad makes it a national news story of finding his daughter, while a reporter (Clark Gable) who wants the story all for himself finds the heiress taking a bus and goes on the journey back to New York. Along the way, they fall in love, and she teaches him something about hitch-hiking. This wasn't the first screwball comedy, but it's the movie that really jump-started the genre.

Roman Holiday (1953). Audrey Hepburn plays a young adult princess on a state visit to Italy. Not liking her state duties, she runs away, but only after having been given a sedative, so she winds up in a drugged state when a reporter (Gregory Peck) finds her. He knows who she is and that he's got the story of his life on his hands, but as he and his photographer friend (Eddie Albert) take her around Rome, he falls in love with her. Eventually, she's going to have to go back to her country's embassy. Will his dishonesty be found out?

Sullivan's Travels (1941). Joel McCrea plays Hollywood director John L. Sullivan, who wants to make socially relevant movies instead of light stuff like "Ants in Your Pants of 1938". He wants to see the real world undercover, but his entourage keeps following him until he's able to escape. He meets The Girl (Veronica Lake) and they fall in love, but get separated and, in a railyard accident where his ID is found in the sole of his shoe, he's presumed dead. Can he convince anybody of who he is and get back to Hollywood and The Girl?

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Briefs for February 9-10, 2022

I mentioned on Saturday that normal posting would continue if we didn't lose power again from the ice storm. And therein lies a tale. The power went out around lunchtime on Monday, and when I look at the utility's outage map, it claimed there was only one customer affected by the outage we had reported. That, of course, would be Dad and I. And sure enough, everybody else had power. We live at the end of a dead-end road, with a 1000-foot driveway uphill, and wouldn't you know, but the problem was on one of the poles on our driveway. Lovely. Anyhow, the utility came out to fix it and found a tree had fallen over onto one of the transformers, shorting it. The problem is, it's a customer-owned pole, so the utility isn't allowed to assume the liability to fix it, which meant necessitating a call to a tree service before calling the utility and informing them that the tree issue had been fixed. In any case, normal electric service resumed about 10:00 AM today, and with temperatures having reached 40F, most of the ice has melted from the branches so we shouldn't have that sort of electric issue for a while.

I actually have two movies that I've watched recently and will blog about, possibly tomorrow and Friday, although tomorrow is still the Thursday Movie Picks. A few weeks back I had thought about watching Harry and the Hendersons off of my DVR, but noticed that it was getting a new Blu-ray release on Feb. 8, which was yesterday. So one of my plans had been to watch it in anticipation of the Blu-ray release, and doing a post on it then. But the power outages screwed up those plans.

It looks like TCM's lineup for tonight is boxing pictures, with what may be the TCM premiere of When We Were Kings kicking the night off at 8:00 PM. That's followed at 9:45 PM by Fat City, one of the few later John Huston movies I really like, and is absolutely worth watching. Tomorrow morning and afternoon is noir, while the Thursday prime time lineup is comedies with trains being a big part of the story. Over on FXM, the one movie I haven't much mentioned before is Quintet, a post-apocalyptic movie starring Paul Newman that to be honest I don't particularly care for.

One death of note would be Douglas Trumbull, the special effects genius behind movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner. He was able to take that knowledge of effects and use it on the one big film he got to direct, Brainstorm, which I like but is a mess thanks to Natalie Wood's having died during production. For some reason I thought (wrongly, as it turns out) that Trumbull was one of the presenters of the TCM Spotlight on MGM special effects man A. Arnold Gillespie back in 2015.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Hard Rain

Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the DirecTV free previews was Hard Rain. It's part of the Cinemax rotation, and will be on again multiple times this week, starting with 2:35 AM tomorrow on ThrillerMax. So as always, I made a point of watching it to do a review on here.

In the town of Huntingburg, IN (a real place, as it turns out, and the same town that was used for filming A League of Their Own), it's raining hard enough and long enough to flood, with people putting up sandbags and the sheriff (Randy Quaid) trying to evacuate people from town. There's a good chance the dam upstream is going to have to release more water, which is obviously a problem for the town below. The sheriff is a lame duck who recently lost his re-election bid, so some people, such as the elderly couple Henry and Doreen (Richard Dysart and Betty White respectively), plan to stay behind and even set traps to stop looters.

Meanwhile, the bank is worried about its money, so they've been sending an armored car to stop at all the towns in the area that are being evacuated and getting the cash out of the vaults. The team in the armored car is Charlie (Ed Asner), who is nearing retirement age; and young Tom (Christian Slater), who just happens to be Charlie's nephew. (I'd think putting relatives together in armored car crews is something that would give management pause, but apparently not in this plot.

It's not much of a secret that there's an armored car going around and collecting money for safekeeping, and as you might guess, that attracts the baddies. In this case, it's a gang led by old Jim (Morgan Freeman). Their plan is to get to the armored car when it gets stuck in the rising waters, as it's bound to do, and take the money, floating off with it before anybody can spot them. And maybe they could have the great good luck to have Tom and Charlie drown waiting for help.

Of course, the heist doesn't go as planned. Jim shows up at the appointed time to "help" Charlie and Tom, but Tom suspects something is wrong because Jim and his friends are deliberately blinding him with their headlights. So Tom reaches for his gun, and a firefight breaks out in which Charlie is shot to death. Since there's a goodly water-filled distance between Tom and Jim's gang, Tom is able to get the cash out of the truck and take it with him, to hide it in the cemetery so that Jim and friends can't find it and will have to keep him alive since he's the one with the vital knowledge of where the cash is.

Tom winds up back in Huntingburg, with Jim and his men following, which brings all of them into contact with law enforcement in the form of that sheriff. However, Karen (Minnie Driver) spots Tom and thinks he's a looter since he just broke out of the school where he'd been hiding from Jim's gang. She waylays him and gets him locked up, which is pretty darn dangerous what with the rising waters. Tom tells the sheriff that he's from the armored car company, but he stupidly left his ID back in the truck so they have no way of verifying his story except to go out to the cemetery themselves to find the money.

With a cool $3 million at the cemetery, it's no surprise that the sheriff, about to be out of a job, thinks about keeping that money for himself, or at least splitting it with the rest of his men. This leaves Tom subject to the rising waters back in the holding cell, and when the water does come, we have Karen rescuing him, leading to an uneasy alliance.

Hard Rain is a movie that's treading no new ground, no pun intended. There's so many plot holes and continuity errors here, notably with all of the lights that are still on in the flooded town. Characters take an inordinately long time to die, long enough for them to get an important scene. And they're also all able to function underwater longer than Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure.

On the other hand, if you just want to sit back and be entertained for 90 minutes without having to think too much, Hard Rain is a movie that will do that. And Betty White provides some pretty good comic relief.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Light posting

I had intended to do a Thursday Movie Picks post, but unfortunately I was a bit under the weather on getting home from work, so I didn't post anything Thursday evening, having already done a post Thursday morning.

And then the ice storm hit. The power went out about 5:30 AM Friday, and while we have a generator since we live in the middle of nowhere, that picked the perfect time to go on the fritz. I wasn't about to use my limited phone battery to post here, so that's why there was no post yesterday.

Power finally came back on around 1:30 this afternoon, but I wasn't ready to fire up my PC to do a post, in case it was only temporary. So right now, I'm posting from my tablet, which is a bit of a pain because Blogger doesn't want to play nicely with the keypad, consistently moving the cursor around and doing premature auto-completes. None of the other places I post to from this tablet has that problem.

Assuming the power stays on, I'll have a regular post tomorrow.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Briefs for February 3-4, 2022

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and I don't think I've done a post on the Bill Murray movie. But then, I haven't seen it in a couple of years, and it's one of those movies I'd like to watch again before doing a post on it. Not that I particularly care about the actual groundhog and the old wives' tale.

I don't think there's much of note coming up on FXM; most of the stuff in the Retro block is stuff that's been in the rotation for a little while and is going to be there for a while longer, it looks like. Over on StarzEncore Westerns is where things are a bit more interesting. I've been going through my box sets of Randolph Scott westerns, picking up a second set and recording The Bounty Hunter off of TCM not too long ago, one that's not on the box sets I've got. Anyhow, StarzEcnore Westerns has a couple of those movies in the lineup tomorrow morning. First, at 8:02 AM Feb. 4, there's Ride Lonesome. That will be followed at 9:16 AM by Buchanan Rides Alone. There are some other interesting movies coming up, too, such as Broken Lance tonight at 10:24 PM.

As for the obituares, Italian actress Monica Vitti died yesterday at the age of 90. She was known for her work in the 1960s on such Italian movies as L'Avventura and L'eclisse, as well as making the odd English-language film Modesty Blaise which is more interesting for its style than its story.

The other death is that of Carleton Carpenter, who died on Monday aged 95. Carpenter did a Word of Mouth piece for TCM, talking some about his small appearance in Father of the Bride, saying Spencer Tracy was complimentary of him, and also talking about appearing with Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks with Love and having a hit duet singing "Abba Dabba Honeymoon". I specifically wanted to mention Carpenter, since he's the co-star in Fearless Fagan, which is on at 3:15 PM today as part of a TCM salute to Janet Leigh.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Great Flamarion

Recently, I took out my Mill Creek ultra-cheap set of public domain "crime" movies, 50 movies in the set, to watch another movie. This time, it was The Great Flamarion.

You can already tell this is public domain considering the production company listed at the start of the credits is in a different typeface from the rest of the credits and badly edited in, to boot. But that's no big deal since I expect it from these cheap sets. Going through the credits, there was a screen listing "William Wilder" as the producer -- I actually had to back up and check to make certain it wasn't that Billy Wilder with a writing credit, maybe from something left over from his days before he became a director. But it turns out that the person is question is actually W. Lee. Wilder, a producer/director from the second half of the 1940s who was in fact the older brother of Billy Wilder. More promising is when we get to the director, a young Anthony Mann years before he started making those great westerns with James Stewart.

In any case, on to the story. Although the movie was released in 1945, we're told that it's 1936 in Mexico City. There's a vaudeville-like performance going on at a music-hall type place, surprisingly enough in English. But suddenly we hear what sounds like a gunshot, which understandably causes chaos. Backstage, Connie (Mary Beth Hughes), the wife of Eddie (Steve Barclay), is found dead with the gun right there. The fairly obvious suspect is Eddie, since the two had supposedly had an argument not long before the shooting.

However, two strange things happen. First is that the authorities determine that Connie was not shot to death; in fact she was strangled. And yet the gun did go off. That accounts for the second strange thing. After some time has passed, one of the stagehands is cleaning the stage, when suddenly he hears a loud thump just behind the curtain. He looks, and sees... The Great Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim). Flamarion is a nother performer in the show, and as he's dying, he starts relating the story of how he wound up here....

Go back some time to the vaudeville circuit. Flamarion was still Flamarion, doing his act, which was a trick shot act. No big deal, except that his act was a double, with Flamarion shooting things out from Connie, and other things just to the side of Connie. Technically, it's a triple, since the one time we see the act it starts with Connie having a tryst with Al (Dan Duryea), who is her husband in the "real life" context of the movie but the other man in the play-within-a-pay. Flamarion walks in on this and that when the shooting begins.

Now, when you see the name Dan Duryea in the credits, you should know that there's a character that's up to no good. In this case, it's a man who likes to drink and spend, to the point of selling off some of Connie's jewelry, which she's clearly unhappy about. He probably sees other women too, although that's not made explicit. In any case, Connie has been thinking about getting a divorce or otherwise breaking up the act, although the latter might be unfair to Flamarion. So she starts getting Flamarion to believe that perhaps she's really interested in him. Then, she starts putting the suggestion in Flamarion's mind that perhaps he could have an "accident" that kills Al.

The Great Flamarion is a B movie all the way, with a short running time and obviously low-budget sets and a storyline that had probably been done dozens of times already, even if this time it has the gloss of using a character created by Vicki Baum, better known for Grand Hotel. But it's a pretty darn stylish B movie, thanks in part to the direction of Mann, and pretty good turns by Hughes and von Stroheim.

If there were a good print available anywhere, The Great Flamarion is the sort of film that would be interesting for Eddie Muller to present on Noir Alley. As it is, however, you're going to have to find the many public domain copies.